No Longer IF Comp 2015: Emily is Away

thumbnailEmily is Away is a text-focused game that was originally entered in IF Comp 2015, but withdrawn because the author also planned to release it to the public as a paid commercial work. (Today, in fact!) IF Comp isn’t really a good place for submitting commercial games, for a host of reasons — you have to let people have free copies of your thing, and then you’re not allowed to talk about your own work for the duration of the competition, and so on.

Nonetheless, I did play this in the free beta version that I received as an IF Comp judge. My first impression of it was extremely positive, since it struck me as polished and inventive and very easy to get into. It uses a mockup of an instant messenger interface for five dialogue exchanges with your friend Emily (hence the title). These exchanges span a five-year period from senior year of high school to senior year of college, and plot out the course of your relationship.

The game does a number of cunning interface things: you make a dialogue choice from three options, but then you have to actually spam your keyboard to mime typing in your input. This might seem a bit gimmicky — indeed it is a bit gimmicky — but the game uses it to good effect, because you see what your character types and deletes and retypes before sending the final version of the message. And there are things where you can reset your profile picture and get Emily’s comments on it, or see the rest of your buddy list (even if there’s never any way to talk to anyone but Emily). The early stages of the game created a charming sense of connection for me.

I should note that it is entirely possible to name the protagonist a female name, and the randomizer at the beginning of the game will suggest some female names as options, but the bulk of the story reads to me as heteronormative. We only see Emily date men and we only see the protagonist date women. It’s possible that you’re lesbian and Emily is bisexual, but nothing in the narrative actively supports this view.

Once I’d played through the whole thing several times, I developed some more conflicted views about the content, and I’d like to talk about why; but this is going to be totally spoilery, so if you’re planning to play yourself, you should probably not click through.

(Edited to add: the author has now shared some of his own thoughts, both about his Comp participation and about the game content; see the bottom of the comment thread.)

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